By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 10, 2012
Jocelyn Calvillo knows her success is important to her family as the first to go to a private school and now the first to attend college.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” she said, adding that she wants to do well to make her parents proud. “It’s pressure I know I can handle.”
Yet, she isn’t all about books. Calvillo has other interests that are a bit offbeat. “My second goal is to be the little old lady who lives in a shoe with a million cats if all else fails,” she joked.
Calvillo said she sees how folks like her parents struggle to provide for their children under a cloud of fear. Naturalized citizens now, both parents crossed from Mexico without documents.
“I want to give them the opportunity to (work hard) without the fear of deportation,” she said about her goal to work as an immigration lawyer. “By helping the parents, I help the children as well.”
At the Marist School, Atlanta, Calvillo is one of a handful of Hispanic students who are graduating.
Friends in the Hispanic community have the mistaken impression that the private school is “too good for them,” she said.
Her experience proves the stereotype wrong. “I’m living proof that you can go to a private school and succeed.”
Staff at the school praised her for her work ethic, participation in clubs and success.
Sergio Stadler, a veteran soccer coach and mathematics teacher, served as a mentor to Calvillo during her high school years. He saw her reach out to help students in his calculus class, as well as take on the duties as manager of the girls’ soccer team.
At one game, when the assistant coach was absent, Stadler saw it was Calvillo who stepped up without being asked to take on duties.
When he thanked her, “She looked at me, puzzled, ‘thank you for what?’ She understands she has a role and she’ll step forward to do it.”
And in class, when students work in groups, she doesn’t hesitate to help others, he said.
“She has patience. She’s kind. She always has a smile. I cannot say enough about her. She’s benefited from Marist, but we have definitely benefited from getting to know her,” he said.
Calvillo is the youngest daughter of Jose, a landscaper, and Sylvia, a retail store clerk. The family lives in Doraville and attends Our Lady of the Americas Mission, where for years she has been a dancer in the December celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe feast. She works on the weekends at a Kentucky Fried Chicken/Taco Bell store to earn pocket money for her cell phone. She also works on campus as part of her financial aid package.
She arrived on campus in ninth grade from a public charter school. She spent three summers at the Reach for Excellence enrichment program before enrolling. Friends came easy, she said, and knowing the campus during those first weeks let her focus on classwork and not worry about being lost.
Calvillo shouldered a rigorous course load and scored third highest in the state on the National Spanish Exam in her sophomore year. She is a sought-after student for colleges. She is attending Agnes Scott College, Decatur, in the fall.
With the graduation looming, Calvillo still has exams to prepare. She laughed at the idea of senioritis. “I’m trying to get it to kick in. I’m studying hard core. I don’t think it’s going to hit me any time soon.”
Karen Dessables knows Calvillo from her days before attending Marist. Dessables is the executive director of the Reach program.
She called the student “a sweet, considerate, and determined young lady.”
Asked how Calvillo’s Hispanic background enriched the school, Dessables said the teen joined many school clubs and contributed “to grow while being herself, without losing her identity.”
Away from the classroom, Calvillo pitched in with everything from the Mosaic diversity club and the Environment Club to managing the girl’s soccer team.
Outside school, she volunteers weekly with Hope4Atlanta, where she tutors students from low-income and immigrant backgrounds.
She called herself a “little bit above average” student. But she is challenged by history classes. “I am horrible at history, but I am determined to try. Right now, I have doubled up on history,” Calvillo said. “I have to know the past so I can defend the future.”